How To Get To The Trail Less Traveled


The Mogollon Rim country for decades has been a favorite destination of hikers and horsemen from all over the Southwest.

With its incomparable beauty and wide variety of trails, there's nowhere better in the state to hit the trail for the beginner or the experienced hiker.

Horton Creek Trail #285

Length: 4 miles

Rating: Easiest

This trail follows along Horton Creek, past several waterfalls and winds through a magnificent stand of ponderosa pine trees. The beauty and ease of the Horton Creek Trail makes this one of the most popular trails in the Tonto National Forest.

To reach the trail, head east out of Payson on Highway 260 for 17 miles. Just past Kohl's Ranch, turn left on Forest Road 289 -- the road to the Tonto Fish Hatchery. Go 1 mile north to the Upper Tonto Creek Campground where the trail begins. Parking is available across the bridge at the Horton picnic area.

The Horton Creek Trail is an easy climb to the junction of Highline and Horton Spring trails. At the junction, hikers may turn and follow the trail back to where they started, or opt for a loop-route by turning west on the Highline for another 3.3 miles to the fish hatchery. From there, turn south on Forest Road 289 to the Upper Tonto Creek Campground.

Another all-day loop-route can be found by heading east on the Highline to Derrick Trail, turn south below Promontory Butte, and back to Upper Tonto Creek.

Railroad Tunnel

Length: 3.2 miles

Rating: Difficult

Hikers looking to hit the trails around the Mogollon Rim may just stumble on one that leads to a giant hole in the side of a mountain -- an abandoned railroad tunnel. That giant hole is all that remains of a failed attempt in late 1800 to connect a statewide railroad from Mexico to Utah.

The brainchild of Chicago attorney James Eddy, the north-south railway would have been the preferred route of the Arizona Mineral Belt Railroad for moving ore from the Globe mines.

Eddy raised enough money to engineer a plan that would cut a 3,100-foot hole through the Rim. After crews had cut about 70 feet of the tunnel into the side of the Rim, Eddy ran out of money and was forced to call it quits.

There are two trails leading to the tunnel; one that finds hikers climbing down to the tunnel from the top of the Rim, and one that leads hikers up to the tunnel from the Washington Park trailhead.

To hike down to the tunnel, take Highway 87 north past Strawberry to Forest Road 300 (the Rim Road). Turn right onto the Rim Road and follow it 12.2 miles where, on the north side of the road, is a sign commemorating the Battle of the Big Dry Wash. Park near the sign, and directly across the road is the start of the Col. Devon Trail. Descend the trail 100 feet following the power lines overhead. At the third power pole, cross over to the left and continue on the trail for another 1/2 mile to the next tunnel sign. The trail then curves off to the left and the tunnel is about 1/4 mile farther from there.

To reach the tunnel from below, take Highway 87 north to the Houston Mesa Road (just north of Payson). Follow the Houston Mesa Road to the Control Road No. 64. Turn west on the Control Road to Forest Road 32, where you'll turn north for 1 mile to the Washington Park Trailhead. From there, the trail starts across the creek on the Highline Trail.

Pine Canyon Trail #26

Length: 8 miles

Rating: More difficult

The best way to hike the Pine Canyon Trail is to start at the upper trailhead and descend the precipice of the Rim to the Pine Trailhead. Pine Canyon Trail is a long hike in the shadows of Milk Ranch Point that's steep and rocky in spots. The trail from above descends the west face of the Rim into Pine Canyon, leading the hiker past Dripping Springs on one of the most breathtaking jaunts in the area.

To reach the trail from above, head north out of Payson on Highway 87 past Strawberry to the intersection of highways 87 and 260. Just past the intersection on 87, turn right on the first road to the right, which is Forest Road 6038. One-tenth of a mile on 6038 is the trailhead down.

Hiking the trail from below, head north out of Payson on Highway 87, 15 miles to the sign marked Pine Trailhead. Toilets, a corral and a large parking area are available there. The Pine Canyon Trail begins 1/8 mile east of the Pine Trailhead on the Highline Trail.

For more information about hiking the trails of the Rim country, stop by the Payson Ranger District on Highway 260 in Payson, or call (928) 474-7900.

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